Seven Tarrant County women were killed by abusive partners in 2021, down from pandemic spike
In 2020, Tarrant County saw a big increase in intimate partner homicides, with 17 deaths. But besides 2020, these homicides have seen an overall decrease since 2016, according to a new report.
If you’re experiencing abuse or partner violence and need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or you can chat with an advocate on their website. SafeHaven of Tarrant County's crisis hotline is 1-877-701-7233, and resources are available on their website.
In 2021, seven Tarrant County women died in intimate partner homicides, according to a new report from the county's Adult Fatality Review Team.
That’s down from 17 intimate partner homicides in 2020. Besides a spike that year, these homicides have been on a downward trend since 2016, the report shows.
SafeHaven of Tarrant County President and CEO Kathryn Jacob wrote the report. She cautioned against calling COVID-19, or anything else, a “cause” of domestic violence.
“The cause of domestic violence is power and control. It is one person who has power over another person. They use that power to control someone," Jacob said.
The pandemic did bring situations that can increase risk for victims, like unemployment — a known catalyst for violence, Jacob said.
Pandemic lockdowns also made it harder for victims to distance themselves from abusers.
“Our fear was that people had died behind closed doors, and we may or may not ever learn about those deaths,” Jacob said. “I think 2021 is a little bit different. It's a little more in line with the years prior to the pandemic."
The Adult Fatality Review Team is a partnership between SafeHaven of Tarrant County and the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney, as well as local hospital networks and law enforcement agencies. Members analyze each case and "paint a picture of the couple’s relationship prior to the homicide," the report states.
Offenders in intimate partner homicides can be former or current partners of the victim, according to the report’s definition. These relationships include “an ongoing pattern of abusive behavior that can include physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or psychological aggression" before the homicide.
The team is working toward a year where Tarrant County sees zero intimate partner homicides, Jacob said.
Members try out new strategies to get closer to that goal, as outlinedin the 2020 report.
- In 2016, JPS Hospital started screening for domestic violence through its electronic medical records system.
- In 2017, SafeHaven started a new team to monitor high-risk domestic violence cases.
- In 2019, the Fort Worth Police Department strengthened its victim outreach for people in high-risk domestic violence situations.
During the pandemic, the Tarrant County DA also put more scrutiny on misdemeanor domestic violence cases. That included improved outreach to victims, said Assistant Criminal District Attorney Allenna Bangs.
“Sometimes people already don't want to talk to us, and I understand that, but we’ve found that it’s very important for them to understand we’re here,” Bangs said.
The DA's office started reaching out to victims in misdemeanor domestic violence cases within 48 hours. Waiting longer could ruin their faith in the system, Bangs said.
“The last thing we want is in ten months, we call and say, ‘Hi, I'm calling from the District Attorney's office,’ and an individual says, ‘I didn't even know somebody got arrested in that case,’ or ‘I didn't know the case got filed,'” she said.
That call can also be important for fact-finding.
"That's where we would learn things like this isn't the first time this has happened or a weapon was used," she said.
The DA’s office can also refer victims to organizations like SafeHaven for further support, Bangs said. The team is trying to fill gaps in the system so no one slips out of reach.
Bangs said they should have been able to see some homicides coming, especially at the beginning of the fatality reviews.
“We had danger assessments. She had been to the hospital several times. There's no excuse for us to say we didn't know," she said.
The 2019 fatality report stated that one homicide victim had sought help from SafeHaven, three went to police, and two had protective orders.
Even if the county reaches its goal of a year with zero intimate partner homicides, domestic violence remains a problem. More than one in three women nationwide have experienced some form of intimate partner violence, according to a 2010 report from the CDC. Homicide is the exception, not the rule, Jacob said.
"The rule is that violence probably happens and it doesn't reach the point of a homicide," she said.
SafeHaven plans to hold a public remembrance for 2021’s seven intimate partner homicide victims. The event is at noon on October 20 at 1010 N. Center St. in Arlington.
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